OKLAHOMA CITY -- If Tuesday's 87-83 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder is any indication, the Dallas Mavericks have some work to do before they can even think about successfully defending their NBA title.
Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd played in their first and only preseason game, but the results were still the same for the Mavs. The Thunder torched the Mavs with suffocating defense and a series of fast-break dunks en route to winning their second preseason game over Dallas in three nights.
"Overall, we're going to have to be a lot better. We know that," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "I like our first quarter, I like the latter stages of the fourth quarter -- we battled.
"The part in between has been rough, and so we've got to work through it."
Oklahoma City led by as many as 23 points -- 74-51 late in the third quarter -- before a 30-13 surge by the Mavericks in the fourth made the final score respectable.
It was as if the Thunder was trying to send a message after it was ousted by the Mavericks in five games last season in the Western Conference Finals. But the Mavericks were coy about a loss in the second of two meaningless preseason games.
"Our goal can't be to be the best team right now," said Nowitzki, who was 2 of 10 from the floor with six points in 23 minutes. "Our goal is to get better from game to game and get used to each other more, and hopefully be the best team again when it comes to April, May and June."
What's really foremost on the Mavericks' minds is Sunday's regular-season opener at home against the Miami Heat -- the team Dallas thumped to win last year's NBA championship.
"We're five days away right now," forward Shawn Marion said. "We're keeping our bodies ready and our minds right.
"We're going to make another run at this. I think we have the talent in this locker room and the mental approach it's going to take to go out there and get it again."
Jerome Randle led the Mavericks with 17 points in 18 minutes, Brandan Wright had 12 and Marion added 10. And there were moments when Lamar Odom, Nowitzki and Marion were on the floor at the same time.
"It was cool. I've just got to get used to it as time goes on," said Odom, who collected eight points and three rebounds. "You play the game, you play it to win it."
Granted, the Mavericks were not at full strength Tuesday night, with guards Jason Terry and Delonte West sitting out because of illness. And Vince Carter, who is expected to be the starting shooting guard against the Heat, also did not play.
Still, the second loss to the Thunder in three days -- OKC won 106-92 on Sunday in Dallas -- has to be cause for concern.
"Look, we were down two guys tonight, which makes it more challenging," Carlisle said. "But there's some good spots to the game and then there's some areas that we're looking at and saying, 'Hey, we're going to be struggling if it goes on like this.'"